Nicole's Story


What “The Soul Moves First” Means to Nicole


On March 23, 2021, Nicole posted the below reflection to Facebook about her recent Multiple Sclerosis (MS) diagnosis and the reawakening she had seeing “The Soul Moves First” after therapy at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab.

Nicole and her tattoo


Normalize getting help.

I walked into the hospital on October 7, 2019. I left the hospital on my 43rd birthday, October 15, in an ambulance headed to Shirley Ryan AbilityLab. I was regulated to a wheelchair during the day and an alarmed bed at night. I felt defeated and deflated. I felt stripped of my pride and my future. Feelings of overwhelming loneliness, confusion, and depression engulfed me. I did not want to be there. I didn’t want anyone’s help.

We all have our turnaround stories and this is mine.

I became a patient of Shirley Ryan AbilityLab out of force (sort of). Ironically, I have one of the most unpredictable diseases a person can have. Presently, there’s no cure. There’s no way to gauge when, how, or to what degree the disease will progress. Heck, you can’t even determine how your next day is going to play out. None of that goes with my personality or my independence at all. By the time I made it to Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, my independence was gone. Walking independently – gone. Thinking independently – gone. Feeling independent – gone. Being independent – gone. I felt like a huge disappointment… until I didn’t.

It was on a field trip, in my wheelchair, with my therapist to the Starbucks across the street that led to my turnaround. On that trip, I ran into a sign downstairs – “The Soul Moves First.” The second I saw that sign, I was moved to tears and had an instantaneous awakening. I allowed myself the freedom to grieve and the permission to be present. We stayed right there, my therapist and I, for a long time. I said goodbye to the past and metaphorically took my first willing steps into my future.

Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is the #1 rehabilitation hospital in the United States. I don’t just say that lightly. They have every form of therapy – psychology, physical, occupational, speech and vocational. Being a patient of Shirley Ryan AbilityLab has been the best part of my entire treatment plan. What the team is able to do is nothing short of miraculous. The environment, while, very sterile and technical, is state-of-the-art and is infused with technology in intentional ways to make you feel empowered. The entire team – the attendants, nurses, doctors and therapists – treat you with respect and dignity and support you as a valued partner. Eye contact, smiles, relationship building, personalized treatment plans and innovative and progressive therapies, are all invaluable components to what is offered there.

You wake up every day stronger than the previous day and ready to reclaim your independence with people cheering for your continued success.

Nicole, Outpatient Therapy Patient


I was there about 3 weeks and I left thinking, “okay that was a beautiful once-in-a-lifetime experience.” But it wasn’t. I graduated to outpatient services and spent 3 months in daily outpatient therapy. Again, I was met with resounding commitment to my care. I was allowed to grow at my pace and to be committed to myself and my healing. I was given patience, knowledge and awareness and was allowed the time and space to get to know my ‘new’ self. I recently finished another 6-week outpatient program at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab due to my flair in January. Once again, I am in awe of how they humanize their approach to build you up from the inside out.

I wish we could redefine independence. Really, it’s not about doing things by and for yourself. To me, it’s more about knowing your strengths and limitations and knowing how to navigate through challenges and engage the right resources to help you be your best self. That’s what Shirley Ryan AbilityLab does for its patients – helps each of us be our best selves. We may have different disabilities and limitations but they surely find a way to reawaken our souls.

Long story short, let the professionals do their jobs to help you live better. Trust the process. Oh and if you EVER need rehabilitation, Shirley Ryan AbilityLab is the way to go.


Thanks for sharing your story with us, Nicole!